Vengeful Queen by Lili St. Germain

PROLOGUE





AVERY





My father controls the state of California as if the entire, sprawling place is a dutiful dog, harnessed and ready to obey. One jerk on the leash, a single command, and Daddy Capulet gets anything he wants. Only, he isn’t asking corrupt politicians to sit or stay or roll over; he’s telling them which land development projects to approve, which cargo shipments to allow through customs unchecked, which shares to buy, which companies to bury in red tape and legalities. And sometimes, darker things. Sometimes, my father controls life and death.

He’s not a bad man. He’s not a good man, either. He exists in that gray area, in the last moment of night - in the first moment of dawn before the sun pushes up over the horizon. He stands at the edge of the shadows, directing the show, even if nobody can see him in the dark beyond the stage lights. All-powerful. All-consuming. A charming dictator, if ever there was one.

But what’s the point of owning the haystack if you can’t find the needle?

I am that needle.

His only surviving daughter. The reluctant heiress to an empire of unfathomable riches.

And nobody can find me.

I’ve been missing for weeks, stolen away on my twenty-fifth birthday, the night I was publicly betrothed to a man I hate. A man who was lined up to marry my older sister until she killed herself, ten years ago, and cemented my fate.

I don’t blame her. The burden of Queendom is heavy. In Adeline’s death, she passed her fledgling power to me. If I die now - which I’m beginning to think I will - there will be nobody to take my place. My father could have more children, I suppose - but my father might already be dead. I pray he survived the bullet wounds he suffered the night I was taken, a brutal diversion that had my bodyguards escort me to what they believed was safety - but what was actually an elaborately planned trap to capture me. A bag over my head, strong hands wrapped impossibly tight around my arms, and I was stolen before anyone even knew I was gone from the rooftop party where my father was still bleeding to death.

That’s how I came to be here, the prized possession of a serial killer. The XO killer, they call him. I know all about him because he’s been terrorizing the city of San Francisco, without detection, for almost ten years. I know all about him because, the night he took me, he painted an XO, his signature modus operandi, across my bare chest in my own blood.

Raped. Beaten. Starved.

Locked in a basement with my sworn enemy - the son of my father’s archnemesis - who just happens to be the first boy I ever loved.

Rome Montague.

He’s trapped down in this hellhole with me.

Shot. Stabbed. Tortured.

My blood and his might be opposites - his Montague to my Capulet - but in the dark, we both bleed just the same. There’s no real way to tell where his bloodshed ends, and mine begins. The bitter, broken heir who resides in this dungeon with me is my only constant. My only hope. My only protector.

I don’t deserve his salvation. I betrayed him once. I did something horrible to him. But for some reason, he still tries to keep me safe from our violent fate.

All the money in the world can’t save us now, because it’s not a ransom our captor is asking for. It’s our pain. Our blood. Our tears. He takes and takes, and just when I think there’s nothing left to take from us, when Rome and I are empty and bloodless and that this time I’ll stay unconscious, and sink into that velvety blackness of death...

I wake up.

And I’ve got to say, considering I’m the sole heiress to a vast fortune and the bloody throne it entails, I kind of thought there’d be a little more fanfare around my disappearance.

A front-page spread in a national newspaper. Some kind of fuss. At the very least, I thought they’d have fucking found me by now.

I guess I was wrong, though, because I’m still sitting here, in the dark, counting the seconds as they pass in time with my heartbeat. It’s dangerously slow, my pulse, which is a worry for a girl who is used to having a resting hummingbird heartbeat.

It’s the blood loss. The body needs a certain amount of blood to pump around, a minimum volume, and mine desperately needs replenishing. With very little food, multiple wounds, and an increasingly blood-thirsty captor, my body can’t quite seem to catch up and replenish itself.

I wonder how much more blood I can lose before I’ll die.

I wonder how long it will be before I want to die.

Mostly, I wonder which one will come first.





PART ONE





Purgatory





CHAPTER ONE





AVERY





“I’m not going to hurt her,” the man in the mask says to Rome Montague, handing him a large butcher’s knife. “You are.”

“The fuck I am,” Rome replies, his words thick with fury and venom. With the desire to keep me safe. But his hand closes around the knife handle anyway. I already know what he will try to do.

But there’s a reason you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

A blade can’t beat a bullet.

And just as Rome raises the knife to attack our gun-toting captor, a searing jolt cracks at the base of my throat, and I immediately fall to the floor. I scream as the collar around my neck delivers a measured current of electricity via two tiny metal prongs, straight into my skin. It travels through my body, hot and loud, a burn with no flame. On my back, I struggle to keep my eyes open, blinking furiously, as I watch the rest of this horror show unfold above me.